A biographical romance period drama seems like the perfect film to tempt the Academy Awards. I am very curious why A United Kingdom which opened at some festivals in 2016, did not go to theaters until February of this year and seemed to miss the Oscars. Even though I love film, I don’t watch the awards and am not up to date on the criteria, but that was my first thought after watching the film and seeing it had no nominations. It seemed like perfect “Oscar Bait” in a way.
The Movie Itself (3.5/5)
My initial score was slightly higher, but after reflecting on the film for a few days I think what I have now is better suited. A United Kingdom is an extremely emotional film, meaning many of the scenes are designed to elicit a certain reaction. Now you could say that is the general point of most/all films, but this movie seems to kick it into high gear. We meet Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) who is encouraged by her sister to go to a dance and blow off a little steam. We don’t get much of her backstory other than she lives with her parents, seems to be forever single and doesn’t care much for her boring typist job.
*You may read some of my synopsis as a little hyperbolic, however it’s intended to show how I was reeled in with the narrative and I did get emotionally invested*
At the dance Ruth is swept off her feet by the man of her dreams, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo). After a few dates he tries to dump her using the old “I’m a king in another country trick and my people won’t like you.” Ruth brushes that aside and wants to be with him until he leaves, Seretse however falls in love and proposes. Seeing as how this courtship takes maybe the first 15 minutes of the films run-time, I’d actually for once advocate for a film to be longer. Honestly, I think this film would have been a perfect mini-series. Once we get to Bechuanaland and see how the tribe interacts with Ruth, it’s all glossed over so quick.
Throughout the film we also have the British Government as the antagonist, they continually try to break up Seretse and Ruth. I really enjoyed the politics angle. The film had a nice balance of romance and political intrigue and does keep along at a breezy pace. The film really needed to expand on certain aspects though and even though it may have sacrificed some pacing, though omissions keep it from being a top tier film. The main thing I was missing was Ruth’s trials and ordeals with her new found African people. They are very derisive to her in the beginning and before you know it, poof, they are her best friends. The film had some time jumps that were all at different intervals and I wouldn’t be surprised it that confuses some of the audience.
What this film does nicely though, is suck you into the characters and make you want to know more about them. The acting was strong from both the main cast and extras. I can easily see myself watching this film again and am glad I got the chance to see it.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4.5/5)
A United Kingdom is beautifully shot and features generally crisp details. The scenes in England have a normal (for film portrayal anyway) drab and foggy look to them, but that contrasts wonderfully with the bright (though sometimes dusty) scenes in Africa. Detail is nicely done throughout and there are very few images of softness. The costume design was great and featured a lot of variance. The set design was also spectacular as they even used Seretse and Ruth’s real life house to film in.
Score/Audio Quality (4.5/5)
A DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track never truly rocks the home cinema, but it perfectly accentuates the score. In England you get some colorful jazz as the couple dances many nights away and in Africa there is beautiful tribal music that comes through. The rest of the film features a moving orchestral score with a lot of strings, it plays well off of it. The dialogue is very clean and comes through nicely, I was overall very happy with the audio. The Blu-ray also comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio Descriptive track with a very clear female narrator for those that are visually impaired.
Special Features (2/5)
Making Of (06:19) A brief look into David Oyelowo’s work into getting people on board to make the film. Quick interviews with the director and main cast talking about the characters chemistry.
Filming in Botswana (06:06) A short but interesting look into some of the filming difficulties. The director Amma Asante and main cast talk about the heat and the sandstorms that plagued certain scenes in production.
The Legacy of Seretse and Ruth (03:48) Basically an extended trailer. This feature could have filled in some gaps missing from the film, but unfortunately adds nothing.
London Film Festival Opening Night Gala Premiere (06:08) Interviews with the cast and producers on the red carpet. Offers some insight into the character, but does overlap with some of the other features.
Theatrical Trailer (02:23)
- Disc Art
- Digital HD (UV or iTunes)
- Blu-ray & DVD
- Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
- English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio Descriptive
- English SDH
Runtime 111 Mins
A United Kingdom Overall (3.5/5)
A United Kingdom offers a solid package overall and one that most should be happy with. The film is compelling and makes for either a perfect date night or one who loves history and older settings. The balance between romance and politics is very well done and flows with the solid acting and generally gorgeous set pieces. The technical merits are more than substantial and the Blu-ray brings Africa alive. The special features are somewhat sparse and uninformative, but shouldn’t dissuade those looking to purchase.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.